Moreover, Connolly was convicted for a crime allegedly directly involving Bulger, and it would seem to be easy to pin on Bulger as well, with a potential death sentence.
The same can be said of Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi. Named in the same 1994 racketeering indictment that caused Bulger to flee Boston, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2001, when the proceedings finally concluded. But meanwhile, he pleaded guilty in 2004 to a number of murders, including to an Oklahoma murder in which Bulger was allegedly an accomplice.
Thus, in either Florida or Oklahoma state court, Bulger could face a trial for murders to which an alleged conspirator has already been found guilty, receive a much speedier trial than he would in Boston's federal court, and see a likely guilty verdict, and perhaps even the death penalty.
Even if the Department of Justice could come up with a legitimate reason for wanting to retain federal control of Bulger's trial, it has yet another currently ignored recourse for ensuring that Bulger go to his grave a convicted felon: it could indict him in federal court in California on gun-possession charges. The so-called federal Brady law criminalizes a fugitive's or felon's possession of even a single firearm; Bulger was both a fugitive and a felon, and according to the government, he had as many as 30 guns hidden when apprehended in his Santa Monica apartment. The gun-possession case would appear to be open and shut. It is hard to imagine how such a prosecution would require more than a few weeks, if not just a few days.
The bottom line is that Boston's federal court is the least logical locale in which to try Bulger, if the department's true goal is to convict him "before the end of his natural life" — or with the expenditure of the fewest of its claimed scarce resources. Why, then, is this the strategy that the Department of Justice and the Boston US Attorney's office have insisted upon? And why, for that matter, did Ortiz choose to pursue the later, more narrow indictment that had been assigned to Stearns, and dismiss the 1995 indictment that had been assigned to Chief Judge Mark Wolf? Wolf, after all, previously presided over Flemmi's trial and therefore would be familiar with the enormously complex background of the investigation.
Perhaps Ortiz's decision to sidestep Wolf has something to do with the fact that it was during the Flemmi case that Wolf insisted on turning over the rocks and discovering, slithering beneath the surface, the corrupt relationship between a number of FBI agents and the Bulger gang. Might Ortiz be seeking to avoid such judicial curiosity this time around? (For more on this history, see David Boeri's companion piece.)
Whatever the reason, one has to conclude that some non-obvious motive must be at play — because clearly, the answer does not lie in Ortiz's stated desire for a speedy trial, nor the government's claimed solicitude for the victims of the gangsters who had so much federal help during their violent rampages.
This article was prepared with research assistance by Daniel Schwartz.